State lawmakers expressed concern Tuesday about a large number of public schools that aren’t participating in programs extending classroom time to help improve outcomes for students and address the 2018 ruling in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit.
The ruling, which determined New Mexico’s public education system was providing inadequate services to several groups of students, cited extended learning — such as preschool, after-school and summer school programs — as key to bringing proficiency rates and other measures up to par.
But schools districts can choose whether to offer the extra learning time.
The Legislative Finance Committee, during a meeting in Taos, learned the number of students participating in K-5 Plus, a summer program for elementary schools that adds 25 days, fell to 8,699 last year from more than 14,200 the prior year. The decline is expected to continue.
K-5 Plus and a second program that can add 10 days to the calendar districtwide are serving about 60 percent of the state’s students, the data showed.
“We’ve allowed local control to really impact certain aspects, and I think this is one of them,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.
Stewart sponsored legislation earlier this year expanding the availability of K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Time. Initially, she had hoped to mandate an extended school calendar, but there was little support for such an initiative.
“I don’t know how we do it, but I think we have to increase the school year,” she said Tuesday.
Most states require at least 180 days of instruction time in public schools, but only 20 percent of New Mexico schools had 180-day calendars in 2018, according to a legislative report. The state has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to fund programs to lengthen the school year; nearly $100 million remained untouched during the pandemic.
Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, vice chairman of the Legislative Education Study Committee, said he wasn’t surprised by low rates of participation in the programs.
“We knew headed into the past legislative session that there was a real reluctance and lack of motivation from school districts to implement the extended school year,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
He introduced a bill that would have offered schools funding to extend hours rather than days. That bill wasn’t signed into law, but $20 million was appropriated to pilot an extended hours program.
Romero said he hopes the option of extra hours added to school days — rather than days added to the year — will provide more flexibility for districts.
He would be willing to consider changing state statute on minimum classroom days, Romero added.
Santa Fe Public Schools’ decision to participate in Extended Learning Time, which led to an early start to the current school year, drew mixed reviews from families and staff who didn’t find out about it until late spring.
Some lawmakers and committee staffers at Tuesday’s meeting questioned how the state can ever satisfy the unclear terms of the Yazzie/Martinez ruling.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday it had obtained a 100-page document from the Public Education Department intended to showcase strategies to get the state into compliance with the suit. But the document provides few details on how to repair systemic inequities identified in the case, the report said.
One plan would provide stipends for educators who can teach Spanish or Native American languages in a bilingual setting.
An education report issued by the Legislative Finance Committee said hard-to-staff stipends for such positions, along with mandatory extended learning programs, are both possible options for the next fiscal year.